MAXINE HILDEBRANDT: Good afternoon to you all. My name is Maxine Hildebrandt. I'm so honoured to be here to speak with you today.
My teaching journey at Mother Earth's Children's Charter School has afforded me with many rich learning experiences over the past ten years. As an Indigenous educator, I'm proud of my Cree-Métis heritage, and I'm happy to be able to teach Indigenous students in school where they are free and encouraged to embrace their own cultural heritage.
My school's philosophy believes in a holistic learning approach, and our mission supports the individuals' development of strength, resiliency, personal, culture, and academic growth.
I find that my own teaching philosophy supports this holistic approach as well, and I'm committed to incorporating both an Indigenous pedagogical approach as well as a Western pedagogical approach in my teaching practice.
I value Indigenous knowledge systems and recognize that Elders and community members may hold teachings and insights into Indigenous culture that may enrich the educational experience of my students.
I'm also interested in doing what I can to work toward the advancement of reconciliation. For many years, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada have endured strained relationships as racism, discrimination, and negative stereotyping has proliferated in Canadian society.
In my years of teaching, I often meet teachers of non-Indigenous descent who are interested in learning how they can incorporate Indigenous pedagogy and perspectives into their teaching practice.
They have a sincere desire to learn about history from Indigenous perspectives so that they can have a better understanding of Indigenous issues. They're not content to simply infuse Indigenous concepts or content into their lessons, but rather, they seek a deeper understanding of truth.
They want to understand Indigenous perspectives on topics like Treaties, and the legacy of residential schools. As an educator, I feel I can play a pivotal role in advancing reconciliation by promoting inclusivity and tolerance toward others who are culturally different.
In 2017, I initiated a culture exchange program in my school to create safe ground for students and neighbouring schools with different cultural backgrounds to explore topics from traditional Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives.
A teaching colleague of mine, Lisl Gunderman, from a nearby rural K-9 school, agreed to enter her students into a cultural exchange program with my students. Many of the students from her school had strong ties to Ukranian roots, but also people of German, Métis, and African-American descent.
The goal of our exchange was to introduce our students to one another and to develop positive relationships through a number of learning activities. Our students shared aspects of their cultural heritage with one another and took part in four memorable field trips.
Students learned about topics such as sustainability, conservation, and land stewardship from Western perspectives as well as Indigenous perspectives. The Seven Sacred Teachings and Medicine Wheel teachings helped provide students with an understanding of how we respect, value, and use our natural resources in Alberta.
Sharing one another's stories unified our groups with differing perspectives and resulted in the formation of meaningful and transformational bonds between teachers, students, and communities.
The important thing we realized was that even though we come from different cultural backgrounds and held different perspectives and world views, in the end, we were just people who were willing to humble ourselves and learn from one another.
By appreciating one another as people and building friendships, we tore down cultural barriers that may have existed. We laid aside preconceived notions of one's cultural groups and instead we created a space where we could come together and appreciate the uniqueness of individuals.
My colleague Lisl and I were new acquaintances, only having briefly met each other at an outdoor education teachers' workshop in the summer of 2016.
I was impressed by Lisl's manner when she talked about wanting to incorporate Indigenous perspectives into her teaching in a way that was respectful and genuine. This chance meeting stayed with me for months, and I knew there was sincere teachers out there that wanted to approach teaching of Indigenous perspectives in the right way.
When an opportunity came my way to apply for a grant to participate in a cultural exchange program, I knew right away that I wanted to approach Lisl and collaborate with her. So, I contacted her six months after our first brief meeting, and found that she was most willing to work with me.
We entered the exchange as strangers, but we emerged from it as dear friends. Lisl and I were recognized as recipients of the Governor General's History Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2018 for our efforts in promoting healthy relationships for our students throughout our cultural exchange program.
This program produced such positive results in the first year, that my superintendent, Ed Wittchen, supported me to continue on with the cultural exchange program on an ongoing basis within our school.
Since then, our cultural exchange program has grown to involve four more schools collaborating with us for four additional years. Indigenizing education is one of our foremost charter goals as set out in our school's education plan.
Through Indigenization, students will gain a conceptual understanding of curricular content by exploring learning through Indigenous knowledge
systems and Indigenous practices. Indigenous knowledge is holistic and relational.
Indigenizing education involves connecting with Elders, engaging in experiential learning, and land-based learning opportunities. Last fall, my school's administration approved a budget to create an outdoor cultural classroom where we could provide rich learning for our students.
This site features an all-weather tipi, an open fire pit on a large concrete pad, a sturdy lean-to shelter, and an all-weather outdoor portable washroom. Students have enjoyed partaking in Stoney and Cree lessons as they sat around a warm fire, and have participated in talking circles within a comfortable tipi.
There were beautiful autumn days where students learned from Cree elders how to make traditional dried meat smoked over a low fire. Students have also learned how hunting and fishing played an important role in sustaining our ancestors and continue to be an important role in our lives today.
Students learned how to ice fish and to cook fish over an open fire. The school provided warm jackets, clothing, winter boots, toques, hats, mittens, everything that they would need to spend time learning in the outdoors.
We held a grand opening event for the outdoor classroom in mid-December, when it was really cold. We wanted to inform the school community of our commitment to cultural programming in a very special place.
We named our cultural classroom Oski Kisikaw Ena Makochih, which in Cree and Stoney means a New Day for Mother Earth. Our school's philosophy and mission guides the work that we do in educating our students, and we see Indigenizing education as a new way forward representing the dawn of a new day for learning.
As nice as this classroom is for our students, an important part of our school's charter is to promote collaboration and cultural understanding with others.
It is our sincere hope that as we move forward in the upcoming school years, we can invite schools to bring their students out to share in some of the rich cultural learning experiences we can enjoy in our cultural classroom.
We already have plans to expand our space to include an additional tipi, an outdoor 3D archery range, and other amenities as required. I am looking forward to forging relationships that are cultural bridges with others who are from different cultural backgrounds.
I also know firsthand how effective a tool cultural exchanges may be for educators who seek to promote cultural understanding among their Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.
I attribute the success of my cultural exchange program to the ability that I had to work with other educators who shared mutual goals of mine, and maintained a positive mindset to achieve cultural understanding amongst students.
In a closing note, here...one thing that I heard over and over again is the talk about creating a space, and I feel like, watching a lot of you here today and listening to your stories, that I feel like, that space is, that opportunity to create a space between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, coming together, that's what it's going to take to advance reconciliation and make meaningful change going forward.
Thank you all for having me here today.
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